Lawmakers look at lottery scholarship amountsSeptember 18, 2012 at 8:11 pmChuck Bartels, Associated PressLITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A state senator on Tuesday proposed addressing a $23 million projected shortfall in money available for lottery-funded scholarships by adjusting awards for students so they get less as underclassmen but more as they advance.The proposal by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, drew immediate criticism from former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who spearheaded the effort that got the lottery on the ballot.“This is in no way what was described to Arkansas voters,” Halter said outside the hearing room.Halter, a Democrat, said voters were told that scholarships would be administered in a manner that would be “universal, simple and fair.”Legislators have complained regularly about the high rate of students who don’t remain eligible for their scholarships – about 40 percent at four-year schools and higher at community colleges. They are trying to devote more money to students most likely to graduate while also addressing the budget problem.“This was one idea of what, hopefully, will be many ideas to fix this cash flow issue we have and will continue to have with our lottery scholarships,” Key said.Key proposed a graduated funding method in which freshmen would receive $2,000, sophomores $3,000, juniors $4,000, and seniors $5,000. That would apply to students at two-year and four-year schools.Currently, students at four-year schools receive $4,500 and those at community colleges receive $2,250. The first class receiving lottery scholarships, in the 2010-2011 academic year, was awarded $5,000 and $2,500.Amounts paid to those classes wouldn’t change under Key’s plan.“Our commitment has been whatever you start with is what you get,” Key said. “No change to that.”Key also said legislators may look at changing minimum grade-point average requirements and qualifying scores on the ACT.To qualify now, students must score at least a 19 on the ACT and have a 2.5 GPA. Legislators set the bar relatively low to encourage more students to attend college. Students have to maintain their GPA and pass a minimum number of credit hours to remain eligible.Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, said cutting the amount for which freshmen are eligible would discourage students from starting college.Halter also said reducing money for underclassmen would cut off access to post-secondary education for many students.He said legislators should “take a successful program and amplify it, not fundamentally change it.”Legislators had to change the scholarship amount after the 2010-2011 academic year because officials underestimated how many applicants would opt for four-year schools. Legislators figured applications would be evenly split between universities and community colleges, but about 80 percent of applications were for four-year schools.The state put up a $20 million reserve for the scholarship fund and Key said the program is on track to burn through that money in a few years.Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said it is important to get a plan worked out quickly so graduating high school seniors will be able to plan.“I see us working through some type of matrix that takes into account the current eligibility requirements and some type of curative approach and I’m not sure what else falls into that,” Dismang said.Any resolution would have to be approved in the legislative session that starts in January.Key said legislators have to address the projected shortfall before it becomes a bigger problem.“We need to fix it now rather than wait for that day to hit,” Key said. Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.